Review: Horsegirl

Year: 2020
Runtime: 104 Minutes
Director: Jeff Baena
Writers: Alison Brie & Jeff Baena
Stars: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds

By Kristy Strouse

“Horse Girl” (2020) is an oddity of a film, but a moving and harrowing one at that. Alison Brie stars and co-wrote it with director Jeff Baena, known for his ability to construct a marriage of dark subject matter and comedy. Here, there’s definitely a gloom, and while there is some humor, “Horse Girl” is mostly a rabbit hole down one woman’s detachment from reality. It also provides Brie, an incredibly talented and versatile actress, a chance to embody a role entirely.

While I missed the film at Sundance, I was able to chat with Brie briefly, and I know how personal this story was to her. Even without that context, it’s clear. It is a tour de force for Brie, showing her devotion to the performance in every way.

horse girls
Alison Brie in Horse Girl (2020) © Netflix

“Horse Girl” feels fractured, and some of the shifts are jarring to say the least, but it captures the essence of someone losing their grip on what’s real. It’s not a simple flow, it’s chaotic and sometimes incoherent, and the movie matches (both with its narrative design and its poppy, odd score) this sensation.

When the movie starts, we meet Sarah (Brie) and she’s quirky, socially awkward, but sweet. She works at a fabric/craft store with her boss Joan (Molly Shannon) and they share a familial sort of bond. She lost her mother a couple years earlier, and it has created a lack of meaningful connections in her life. Sarah spends time visiting a horse she rode when she was younger, and watching a supernatural show, Purgatory, which has sentimental ties. Her roommate, Nikki (Debby Ryan) is the complete opposite of her, but wants her to flourish. On her birthday she invites her boyfriend’s roommate Darren (John Reynolds) and the two really hit it off, at first. Before Sarah truly descends, the film has a hopeful beat, slowly careening down, and their initial romantic comedy-esque interaction is funny and cute.

horse 1
Alison Brie and John Reynolds in Horse Girl (2020) © 2020 – Netflix

“Horse Girl” feels fractured, and some of the shifts are jarring to say the least, but it captures the essence of someone losing their grip on what’s real. It’s not a simple flow, it’s chaotic and sometimes incoherent, and the movie matches (both with its narrative design and its poppy, odd score) this sensation. As the story unfolds and things become progressively worse for Sarah, what’s “real” becomes harder to decipher. She’s an unreliable narrator to us, but she’s also untrustworthy for herself. As she starts getting frequent nose bleeds and hallucinations, her mind begins to create explanations for things that are born out of wild paranoia and fear. This is something that is common to those with schizophrenia, and her conspiracies, about halfway through the film, take off to a staggering degree.

An incongruous, engaging ride, “Horse Girl” doesn’t hit all the marks, and some audiences will become deterred, but Brie’s performance is truly the base and it’s one worth jumping off from.

The film’s tone weighs it down some, making some sequences (especially those tempting the formation of reality and mixing in extensive surrealism) come off as heavy-handed. It doesn’t detach from the effect or the positive contributions any the less. It is an uncomfortable movie; one that makes you feel her detachment and horror as she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. You want to hug her, shake her, or give her some form of reassurance, and it is that loss of control from both the star and audience that makes “Horse Girl” so powerful. This is her journey, and it is melancholy, yes, but also a realistic take on mental illness that is able to convey its intent admirably even if it isn’t entirely successful.

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Alison Brie in Horse Girl (2020) © 2020 – Netflix

An incongruous, engaging ride, “Horse Girl” doesn’t hit all the marks, and some audiences will become deterred, but Brie’s performance is truly the base and it’s one worth jumping off from.

3 stars

 

 

 

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